For eight days straight this past summer, “Weird Al” Yankovic was king of the internet. This should have come as no surprise, considering that “Weird Al” has been king of parodies since before Bill Clinton was President of The United States. That is why it was so rewarding to see his media blitz pay off so well. After unleashing eight videos over eight consecutive days (with our help!), Al managed to score a number one record on the Billboard charts with Mandatory Fun (the first time a comedy record has done so since 1963, when Allen Sherman’s My Son, The Nut held that spot).
Though Yankovic would likely humbly reject the idea that his upcoming world tour, The Mandatory World Tour (check dates here), is a victory lap after completing his record deal and ending up with a number one record, we like to think that this tour will be his most celebratory yet.
In conjunction with the announcement of his gigantic tour (88 stops with more on the way), we thought we would catch up with “Weird Al” and discuss everything from his recent successes, to plans for the impending tour, as well as some oddball questions about the weirdest things he has received from a fan. Not surprisingly, he was very thoughtful and that fan gift was definitely super super weird. Check out our interview just underneath his tour announcement video below.
Nerdist: What about 2014 made it the right year for Mandatory Fun? What about the cultural landscape – anything that you can think that was in the ether that made it strike a chord with people?
Al Yankovic: It’s hard to say. I think when “White and Nerdy” came out in 2006, that just happened to be sort of riding the crest of the wave of nerd empowerment. That was the year that all of a sudden people realized, “Hey, nerds rule the world!” It’s cool to be a nerd. I can’t say that I planned it out that way, but it seems like that hit exactly at the right time.
I’m not sure what it was about 2014 that made Mandatory Fun work so well. A lot of people have pointed out that they thought that I had a very smart kind of marketing plan, vis a vis the internet, where I world premiered a video every day for eight days. After that happened, all these business websites and TV shows and organizations were all of a sudden contacting me, like “You figured out the internet! How do you make the internet work?” [laughing]
N: So you found out that Mandatory Fun went #1 backstage at @midnight, which is very full circle since the Nerdist family was involved in “Tacky.” I recently watched the clip of Tom Green handing you a framed chart and that seemed like an authentically tender moment.
AY: Yeah, so another Nerdist connection there. In fact, a double one, because the previous time I was on @midnight I got Chris Hardwick’s blessing for Nerdist to produce my “Tacky” video. And the very next time on @midnight I was getting the word that the album had just gone number one. I walked into the green room, and my wife is there, my daughter is there, my in-laws are there, and they’re holding signs that say “Number One.” They had a cake. [pauses for a sentimental moment] I get a little…
For the Tom Green show, seeing the physical manifestation of the Billboard chart right in front of me was very emotional, I have to say. I was really trying to hold it together, because it was just one of those moments where it’s sort of like something that I never in my wildest imagination dreamed would actually happen happened. So many people really wanted to see this happen for me, which is really amazing. I think a lot of people also felt like they were sharing the victory with me. Like, “Yes! We finally won!” [chuckling]
N: We were so thrilled to produce the “Tacky” music video. What was your favorite aspect of shooting that video?
AY: It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a video shoot. It was totally painless. I selected five friends that I thought would be a good mix, and that would really kind of knock it out of the park. They all had to be available on a certain day at a certain time, because it was a one-take video. We couldn’t shoot Jack on Tuesday and shoot Aisha on Wednesday and put it together. It all had to be done at once.
We rehearsed with the crew in the morning to make sure that the lighting was right, and that the cameraman had his moves down, and everything was going to time out exactly right. We didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.
And when everybody showed up, we ran through it. I think we did six complete takes, and we used the last one. They were done and left in, I think, less than two hours. We just kind of slammed through it. It was so funny – we were supposed to be there all night, but we had what we needed, and then we went home.
N: The one-shot camera work was impressive and very Birdman-esque
AY: Yeah, I think Birdman was basically a “Tacky” video parody!
N: I also wanted to touch on “Weird Al” historically. I was curious if there was ever a parody you wanted to make, but couldn’t?
AY: Yeah, that happens quite a lot. There are a lot of songs that would be a great candidate for parody, like everybody looks for a parody of the song. And then I go through all the variations and iterations, and every kind of turn of phrase I can think of, every kind of angle, and I can think of a lot of ideas, but not always a good idea.
I do all of my editing in the conceptual stage. I don’t get half-way through a song and go, “Nah, that’s not going to work.” I’m a pretty good judge of what are good ideas. I also know when I can’t come up with one! [laughing] That’s happened a lot more than I care for it to happen.
N: Some people know you have a very funny relationship with Prince, who has never allowed you to parody his work.
AY: Yeah, but you know, I like Prince. I mean, I’ve always been a fan of his work. He’s a brilliant musician, and he’s sort of my scapegoat, because he is sort of like the one guy who has just flatly said “No” and never given a reason. So when people ask who has turned me down, I always have to say “Prince.” And then sometimes I have to give it a little extra nudge. [laughing]
N: Have you ever picked a song to sort of tear it apart?
AY: The one that comes to mind is when we did “Achy Breaky Heart.” I did “Achy Breaky Song,” which is basically a song about how horrible “Achy Breaky Heart” is. And you know, I don’t hate “Achy Breaky Heart,” but again, for the sake of comedy, that’s the angle you have to take. It was a mildly annoying song [chuckling], to a lot of people’s ears, and I just kind of ran with that. Yeah, that’s how I know I’ve been around for a while. I’ve parodied Billy Ray AND his daughter!
N: Is it weird to you that your sensibilities have appealed to several different generations of fans?
AY: Yeah. I mean, I’m glad that it worked out that way. It’s certainly not calculated. I’ve always just done what I think is funny or amusing, and thankfully it translates to a couple of different generations. If you go out to one of my live shows, there are people–kids, teenagers, college age, middle age, grandparents–and they’re all out there and having a good time, so I’m glad that my material speaks to different people on different levels. But it’s nothing that I’ve really consciously tried to do. It’s not calculated–it just happened to work out that way.
N: You are about to embark on your Mandatory World Tour. Do you have any personal mantras about the show this time around?
AY: I realize there are some fans who will go to a dozen shows during a tour, but sometimes there are shows that you’ve got to figure the show you’re doing may be the only show they’ll ever see of yours. Maybe that’s the only show they’ll see this year. You don’t know people’s situations. I just want to give people the best show they’ve ever seen. I want to check my Twitter feed and I want somebody to say “That was the best show I’ve ever seen!” That’s sort of my personal mantra. I want to give that level of involvement in the show, that people are just transported by it.
And then after shows, I try to say hi to the fans and sign autographs and things, and my interaction with every person is maybe 10 seconds, but you have to figure they’re going to remember that 10 seconds.
N: And do you have the shows pretty much figured out?
AY: I’ve got the set list figured out. I’ve got all of the videos figured out for the tour. Well, the first iteration of it. Probably after the first week, a lot of stuff will get changed, because it’s a bit of a process, and a bit of a learning curve, to figure out what’s working on stage and what stuff needs to change.
I will say, as with all my tours, it’s going to be all the greatest hits, and it’s going to be featuring a lot of stuff from the latest album, Mandatory Fun. Also we’ll try to throw in a few key surprises for the hardcore fans that want to hear something a little different.
N: What’s the weirdest thing a fan has ever given you?
AY: Oh, gosh! [laughing] There are so many that it’s hard to pick the weirdest thing. Somebody years ago gave me a papier-mâché cat filled with chicken bones.
N: What have you been listening to?
AY: I haven’t been listening to a whole lot of anything lately. In the car, my wife and daughter like their P and Q – their peace and quiet.
N: If you had to dance to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
AY: “Surfin Bird” by the Trashmen.
N: For all the kids out there, what are the steps to becoming Weird Al?
AY: You have to remove my face…you mean in terms of successful parody?
N: I mean physically becoming you.
AY: You have to take a sample of my DNA, and you have to infuse it with your own DNA – it’s very difficult to get the strands to curl just correctly. And then wait for it to take, and then hopefully someday you will physically become me.
N: What’s next?
AY: Oh my goodness. You know, I don’t really have designs or plans. I don’t really look terribly far into the future. I honestly don’t know what I’m doing after this particular tour, and that’s partially by design, because things always come up. Opportunities arise, and I get asked to do things that I never thought I’d ever be asked to do.
N: You’ve certainly earned not having to plan too far ahead.
AY: And I feel freer than I ever have in my career, because as you probably know, Mandatory Fun was the fourteenth album of a fourteen album deal. So I’m completely unencumbered. I can really do anything that I want, career-wise. There are a lot of opportunities out there, and no restrictions whatsoever, so I’m just kind of waiting until the dust completely settles, and seeing where I go from there.
N: That’s great to hear. I’m hoping that we get a lot more one-off Weird Al singles in the future.
AY: That’s definitely part of the plan. I don’t think I’m going to be doing any more conventional albums, but the plan is to whenever the mood strikes, go in the studio, record something and put it out immediately. Why not?
You can find out more about the Mandatory World Tour here.